Twelve Etiquette Tips for Physicians and Medical Staff

Declining reimbursements, increased overhead, implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the rush to litigation are but a few of the reasons to “sweat the small stuff” in the medical arena. If you don’t think you need to pay attention to the details when it comes to making your patients happy as well as healthy, think again. If ever there was a time to mind your medical manners, it’s now.

Patient satisfaction is becoming the key phrase in healthcare. That is not to say that patient outcomes are no longer important. However, it is now obvious that there is a direct correlation between how patients are treated personally and how they are treated clinically.

Using good manners and following the rules of proper etiquette can make an incredible difference in how physicians and their staff are viewed by their patients. If patients feel valued by their physicians and have positive interactions with the staff, they are most likely to become longtime loyal customers. Yes, patients are customers, too.

Let me suggest twelve simple rules of etiquette that can have a positive effect on patient relations and outcomes:

1. Stop, look and listen. This rule does not simply apply to the train rumbling down the tracks. It has great value in a physician’s office. While doctors can rarely spare as much time with patients as they once did, the people they treat need not wonder if their doctor is wearing a stop watch or has set an alarm on his smart phone or on his new Apple watch. Slow down. In some instances, stop.

2. Make eye contact with patients while talking with them. Focus on the patient and not on the computer screen. If your computer is placed in such a way that you must turn away from the patient, get a laptop or reconfigure the computer’s placement.

3. Listen. What a novel idea. When you ask the critical questions, pay attention to the answers. Use good listening skills such as nodding at the person, repeating what you have heard and paraphrasing what was said. Avoid the urge to interrupt or finish the patient’s sentence. You could miss valuable information.

4. Practice professional meeting and greeting. Make your introduction warm and friendly.

5. Smile and make eye contact. This helps to put people at ease and makes them feel welcome and valued.

6. Use the patient’s name as soon as you can while adhering to patient privacy laws. Address people by their title and last name until you receive permission to call them by their first name.

7. Introduce yourself even if you are wearing a name badge, which you should be. Don’t forget to give your title or position so patients will know if they are speaking to a nurse, a technician or a housekeeper.

8. Let the patient know what is going to happen next. For example, “I am going to get your vital signs now. Then you may have a seat in the waiting area until the doctor is ready to see you.” That is something that is done in my own doctor’s office. The usual custom is to tell the patient that you will be leaving the room and that the doctor will be in shortly.

9. Someone should keep track of how long the patient has been waiting in the exam room and check back from time to time. Even a prolonged wait will pass more quickly if the patient sees other humans from time to time.

10. Dress like a professional. Most physicians offer a professional appearance if for no other reason than that they wear a white coat to hide their sins. The office staff is another issue. Some employees wear whatever they choose. Others are required to dress in uniforms. The result is that there is a wide variety in office attire-some of it neat and professional and the other not so much.

11. Dress policies should be put in place and enforced by the officer manager. Lack of attention to office attire can give patients a poor impression and even lead to doubt as to the level of care they will receive.

12. Keep office differences under wraps. Not everyone in the office is best friends with or even likes their co-workers. This should not be the patient’s problem. If employees cannot resolve the trouble between themselves, they need to take up their problem with the office manager, not gossip to others in the office and definitely not make their issues public.

Invest time and money in training physicians and medical staff in the importance of soft skills. While interpersonal skills may not seem as critical as clinical skills in a physician’s practice, without them there soon may be no patients to treat. People have choices in where they go for their medical care; you want that to be in your office.

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